5 October 2008

Hermeneutic of Continuity

Catholic Anglicans can only feel amused sympathy as the Roman Catholic Church grapples with the question of whether Vatican II was a new Pentecost which rejected and put behind it the tradition of the past ('a hermeneutic of rupture') or should be seen - and interpreted - as in unbroken continuity with what went before (the 'hermeneutic of continuity' described by our Holy Father in his most important Magisterial utterance so far, the Christmas allocution to the Roman Curia soon after his Election). How we pray that Benedict's teaching may take hold in the Roman Catholic Church and begin the great enterprise of driving what Paul VI called 'the smoke of Satan' out of the Church.

But I said 'amused', because this debate is the very one which we have been living with - perhaps I should have said 'fighting' - for 450 years. In my College here at Oxford there is a dark and horrible picture showing a group of C16 heretics lurking round a table ... and on the head of each of them, a Pentecostal flame. Consider what happened when Cranmer's first Prayer Book came in. There were, of course, the courageous 1549 Rebels about whom I have several times posted. But there were also those who conformed yet within a hermeneutic of continuity. Bishop Gardiner argued from the actual text of the 1549 Book that it expressed Catholic doctrine. Bishop Bonner, apparently, only occasionally performed new rites in his Cathedral and preserved the old 'Apostles' Mass' and 'our Lady's Mass' in its side chapels as 'communions'. What the parochial clergy did can be discovered from what the Royal Injunctions of 1549 felt it necessary to forbid: 'Item, for a uniformity, that no minister do counterfeit the popish mass, as to kiss the Lord's table; washing his hands at every time in the communion; blessing his eyes with the paten or sudary; or crossing his head with the paten; shifting of the book from one place to another; laying down and licking the chalice of the communion; holding up his fingers hands or thumbs joined towards the temples; breathing upon the bread or chalice; showing the sacrament openly before the distributiion of communion; ringing of sacrying bells; or setting any light upon the Lord's board at any time ...'.

Ever since, this game has been played out among us Anglicans. At the dogmatic level, there have been those who have interpreted the XXXIX Articles in accordance with the teachings of the continental 'Reformers' while others sought their true interpretation in the writings of the Patristic and later periods. The whole point of the Catholic Revival, of course, was to claim both in the Tracts and at the Altar that the Church of England was not a Tudor or Protestant confection but a body in continuity (ministerial, liturgical, doctrinal, moral) with the preceding centuries.

The tragedy has been that as the hermeneutic of rupture gripped the RC Church after Vatican II, many of our people lost heart ... 'What's the point of making a fuss about X and Y and Z when Rome doesn't bother about them any more?' Countless Catholic Anglican clergy have struggled to uphold Catholic Truth in regard to some area of Faith or Morals only to be undermined by the fact that Fr Flannahan down the road is saying the opposite. Every innovation proposed among Anglicans has been advanced on the back of a confident claim that an ever-changing Rome will undoubtedly itself hop onto that particular bandwagon ... just give it a pontificate or two longer. Our adversaries taunt us with this every day with regard to the womenbishops question. Yes, 'Catholics' have been one major factor in the corruption and destruction of everything we had worked for and recovered and built up since 1833!

1 comment:

William Tighe said...

Well, Bishop Bonner (God rest his soul) didn't get away with it for very long. The heretical services became mandatory on June 10, 1549, and Bonner was suspended early in September of that year for his unwillingness to force their implementation. That his deprivation was delayed until the following February was due to the bitter faction-fight following Protector Somerset's fall over whether Princess Mary was to be brought in as regent on behalf of her brother (with the Earls of Arundel and Southampton bearing the sway in the Privy Council) or whether Warwick (the future Duke of Northumberland) was to come out on top -- which he did, eventually, by casting himself into the Protestant camp and sparing Somerset's life in return for his followers' support. Had the result gone the other way, the Latin services would have been back in no time at all.

In 1559 use of the BCP became mandatory on June 24th (the Nativity of St. John then Baptist). Right up to that day the Dean and Canons of St. Paul's Cathedral refused to permit its use there, and maintained to the end the full round of Latin services.